Archive for January, 2010

New Yorker Hotel Celebrates 80th Birthday

January 17, 2010

The reborn New Yorker Hotel, flush with $70 million in renovations and improvements, celebrated its 80th birthday with a 1930s-style bash that featured the big band music of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks (who can be seen Monday nights at Sofia’s), vintage cars and people dolled up in the style of the day.

Hotel New Yorker Ballroom

Opened in 1929 just after the Stock Market Crash that ushered in the Great Depression, the New Yorker’s timing is consistent, with its reopening in the midst of the Great Recession.

Hotel New Yorker flapper

A flapper helps celebrate the New Yorker Hotel's 80th birthday in style (c) 2010 Karen Rubin/

When it opened, the New Yorker had 2,500 rooms  and was the biggest in the city; the renovation scales that back to a much more comfortable 912 rooms and suites, redesigned in a modern, Art Deco style, and equipped with 21st century amenities including flat panel, HD televisions, free HBO, and free Wi-Fi. Its location, across from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station, down the street from the Empire State Building and Macy’s, and just a few minutes walk to Times Square and the Broadway Theater District put it at the core of the Big Apple.

Vince Giordano & Nighthawks at Hotel New Yorker

Vince Giordano & Nighthawks Orchestra bring back era of Big Band at Hotel New Yorker (c) 2010 Karen Rubin/

The New Yorker Hotel has a 24-hour restaurant the Tick Tock Diner in the casual, classic NY diner style, and Cooper’s Tavern serving a mix of regional cuisines at lunch and dinner daily. The hotel is owned by the Unification Church, and operated as a Ramada Hotels franchise by a company, HSA-UWC, USA, headed by Rev. Moon’s daughter, Dr. In Jin Moon, Chairperson, also an ordained minister. (481 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10001, 212-971-0101, res. 866-800-3088,

Dr. In Jin Moon at Hotel New Yorker

Dr. In Jin Moon welcomes guests to the Hotel New Yorker's 80th birthday celebration (c) 2010 Karen Rubin/

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January 11, 2010
Thomas Edison amid his Banyan Tree

A statue of Thomas Edison in front of the banyan tree he planted, now grown to the largest in North America, at his vacation home in Fort Myers, Florida © 2010 Karen Rubin/

More than a home, visiting the Edison-Ford Estates provides a window into two of the greatest inventive minds and entrepreneurs who shaped the 20th century. For years, Thomas Edison came to Fort Myers to vacation but also to do research; Henry Ford, who devised the factory system to manufacture cars “for the masses” visited him for many years.

The museum complex offers one of the best presentations that not only illuminates who these men were, but the cultural context in which they lived – through the actual inventions, videos (including a phenomenal presentation of the first motion pictures filmed by Edison, himself, and others), photographs, artifacts, and the homes themselves (Edison’s home even has the family’s furnishings), provides context as well as content. You come away thinking that the time at the turn of the last century was very similar to this one, with a radical new approach to power and light in the works but blocked by the entrenched powers that be.

Thomas Edison's Cars at Seminole Lodge

Thomas Edison’s own Ford cars, on view in the garage at Seminole Lodge, his Fort Myers vacation home © 2010 Karen Rubin/

We spent five hours on an unusually cold and rainy day in Fort Myers, thoroughly delighted to be able to really focus on the information. Take the guided tour of Edison’s Seminole Lodge, built in 1886 and where he vacationed until his death in 1931, and riverfront grounds that formed this vacation compound, and then continue on your own with an audio player, but plan on spending even more time in Edison’s Botanical Laboratory, where he tried to find a domestic source for rubber using local botanicals (the green bamboo on the property is what drew him to it, in the first place), the museum which has superb exhibits that will be engaging to young and old. The section on Thomas Edison as a boy, is especially geared to children and most inspiring. The animated show of his invention of the Light Bulb was one of the most illuminating presentations there; the museum also shows a full-length video of History Channel’s “Modern Marvels” segment on Edison that held me entranced for about 40 minutes.

Thomas Edison's Botanical Lab

Thomas Edison’s botanical laboratory at his Fort Myers vacation home, Seminole Lodge, just as he left it, provides a fascinating window into his creative process © 2010 Karen Rubin/

The site is owned by the city of Fort Myers (a gift from Edison’s widow, Mina), but operated by a nonprofit organization. Fortunately, there is a pleasant snack bar on the premises, because you will want to be able to spend a lot of time wandering the 17-acre complex including Ford’s house, “The Mangoes” and garages with his famous Model T cars.  Complete tour, of house, gardens, lab and museum is $20/adult, $11 child 6-12; just the lab and museum is $12/$5.  Edison & Ford Winter Estates, 2350 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers, FL 33901, 239-334-7419,

More about the train and Lee County/Fort Myers, Florida at


January 11, 2010
Murder On the Menu on Dinner Train

Tawnie Murdock and Timothy J. Gunderman in character outside the Seminole Gulf Railway vintage train cars © 2010 Karen Rubin/

It’s more Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis than Agatha Christie but the mystery dinner train in Fort Myers, Florida, presented by the Fay Family for two decades, is a rollicking, rolling fun evening that comes with a surprisingly fine meal. Set aboard four vintage train cars of the Seminole Gulf Railway from the 1930s and 1950s (the bathroom has been redone) accommodating up to 200 passengers, even the wait staff has amusing banter – and their service is incredibly attentive.

The trip incorporates what is best about the “golden age” of train travel – the elegant dining car, the rumble and clack-clack of the train on the tracks, the whistle that fades on the air, and even though it is nighttime, outside lights let you see some of the scenery, though the glow of the city in the distance and some reflection on the canal adjacent to the tracks offers the most scenic views.

The meal is first-class, starting off with cheese and crackers and fresh fruit, a soup (the mushroom barley was delectable), a choice of salad (very fresh ingredients) or fresh fruit cup, and a choice of entrée- the prime rib was perfection, the Shrimp Dijon extremely tasty and the Chicken Francesca done with flare, ending off with a dessert. Drinks including a fine selection of wines and beers (even soda, iced tea and coffee) are extra.

The “murder mystery” comes in the form of a theatrical entertainment with four or five characters, who come in between courses to perform scenes. They perform in the aisle, engaging passengers in the play. The cast was extremely professional and personable. At the end, one person in each car who solves the mystery and gives the best rationale, wins a prize. Altogether a delightful night at the dinner-theater-train. Murder is on the menu on Wednesdays-Sundays, boarding at 6 p.m. return at 10 p.m. ($59 pp); an educational1 ¾ hour excursion is also available. Departs the Colonial Station (239-275-8487, 800-SEM-GULF,

More about the train and Lee County/Fort Myers, Florida at

Murder Mystery aboard Seminole Gulf Railway

Wende Gilmore and John Repa play a “scene” from “A Killer Act” onboard the Seminole Gulf Railway Dinner Train Theater © 2010 Karen Rubin/